Tag Archives: Stephen Walter

Get Drawn into Stephen Walter’s Wonderland

25 Nov

Amazingly, I now know my way around Hackney Wick.  Despite the fact that I regularly get lost in central London, I can ‘do’ Hackney Wick.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration.  I can get from the station to Britannia Works where two artists I know currently have their studios.  So, after the tube and the mainline and a rather hazardous walk over the canal where I was nearly blown away (that bit is not an exaggeration), I arrived.

I love visiting artists’ studios and Stephen Walter’s is always a highlight – there’s frequently something new to see, a work in which to lose myself or something exciting to pour over while having a good catch up.

Stephen Walter’s studio. Own photograph.

Many of you have probably seen Stephen’s maps of London.  His most renowned work, The Island, took two years to complete and, on seeing it or one of the borough works (offshoots from the central piece), you can’t help but try to find your home or other landmarks across the city that are personal to you.  I have Barnet hanging on a wall at home and take great pleasure in spotting my house on it.  I blogged this particular series when it was installed at the National Trust’s Fenton House last year where you could climb the 18th century staircase and take in all the boroughs on the way up.

Stephen Walter, The Island.  Image via www.stephenwalter.co.uk

Obviously, Stephen knows London well but the detail included in these maps was extensive and he had to study numerous historical documents, travel literature and antique maps.  Plus, he used Wikipedia to source place names and amusing trivia on important historical and artistic figures as well as contemporary celebrities, on purely capricious grounds.

Stephen also mapped out Liverpool in his own inimitable way.  The map was far larger and more detailed than he initially planned.  Here again, the map is geographically accurate highlighting many of Liverpool’s main roads, railway lines, built-up areas, monuments and green spaces, with an enlarged section of the city centre added in the bottom left corner. It also records several memorable viewpoints that translate the city’s character onto paper.

A poster of Stephen’s Liverpool map on the studio wall. Own photograph.

This year the buzz has been about Walter’s London Subterranea which was on show at the London Transport Museum.  One of these maps is currently hidden away in a chest of drawers in Stephen’s studio; based on the tube network, Stephen painstakingly recorded buried rivers, bunkers, sewers, government tunnels and other hidden parts of London’s underground networks.  He found out about, and included, pagan burial sites, ley lines and murder mysteries.   Unusually, the map is set against a striking black background and crammed in typical ‘Stephen style’.

A detail from London Subterranea. Own photograph.

Stephen is currently finishing Nova Utopia based on the shape of Abraham Ortelius’s map, which was designed to entertain his friends and provide an illustration for their copies of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516).  In Greek utopia means ‘a place that doesn’t exist’ but has also come to mean ‘an ideal place’; Stephen’s map brings together a number of different imagined worlds forming his own island of Utopia.

Abraham Ortelius, Utopia.  Image via www.blogs.artinfo.com

More’s Utopia depicted what its narrator, Raphael Hythloday, claimed to be an ideal human society.  There are many ways to interpret Utopia but, ultimately, the book attempts to navigate a course between the ideal and the real, a desire to create perfection while understanding that perfection is unattainable.

The detail in Stephen’s works is very special.  Despite having seen his Nova Utopia on a number of occasions I can’t help gazing at the detail and soaking it all up.  I’m not going to spoil the treat for you by revealing any images before the work is finished.

A work in progress. Own photograph.

Walter’s drawings have evolved from his fascination with maps, public signs, symbols and obsessive tendencies.  But, he doesn’t just create maps; he also produces beautiful landscape works where he takes emblems to describe often fictitious places and amazing totem-like drawings, playing with mirrored imagery.  One work pinned to the wall is exploring 1960s popular culture with figures like The Beatles jumping out at us.  But, what will fill the other half of the totem pole?  Well, Stephen’s works are always a wonderful surprise and a mystery so I guess I’ll just have to wait until my next visit to see what transpires.

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Tuesday is the new Thursday – Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth and more…

15 Nov

Winter has certainly arrived and, after a quick amaretto latte at Caffè Nero (my winter essential), I was grateful to take refuge inside the first gallery of the evening. Tuesday seems to be the new Thursday and with openings all across London, I selected four within easy walking distance of each other.

I began at Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly to see one part of their current Paul McCarthy exhibition which is spread over both their gallery spaces and St James’s Square.  Not Paul McCartney – this is an art blog!  As everyone will know, Paul McCarthy, is, of course, one of the world’s most celebrated living artists.  Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently travelled to Los Angeles to visit McCarthy and was overwhelmed by the vastness of his studio – the size of the operation is not just a Hollywood essential but is vital to his work as the exhibition fills three spaces (four if you count the Savile Row split) with huge ambitious pieces.  He’s also currently showing in their New York gallery and his daughter, Mara, has curated their Zurich exhibition – Hauser seem to like keeping it in the family.

Paul McCarthy, The King, 2006-2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Presiding over the ground floor at the Piccadilly space is McCarthy’s The King, a monumental installation raised on a platform and surrounded by large-scale airbrush paintings, supposedly created on the easel which stands on the said platform.  The main focus here is a silicone model of the artist – naked.  Slumped on a wooden throne, wearing a long blond wig, his limbs are partly severed, his eyes are closed (possibly in pain).  He is grotesque.  And, as is so often the case, we cannot help but look.  Church pews have been arranged in front of the piece so that the space becomes a chapel where visitors can worship at the shrine of the artist.  Incredibly, this created an almost holy hush across the gallery particularly noticeable to regular Hauser PV guests.  The King had cast an intense spell and everyone seemed intoxicated by his power.  There are other works in the vault rooms downstairs and the gallery spaces on the top floor but they didn’t have quite the same impact as the resonance of the initial piece. Neither, was it easy to access them; ascending or descending the stairs involved getting far too ‘up close and personal’ with the other guests.

Paul McCarthy, Mad House Jr., 2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Next, I wandered along Piccadilly to Beaux Arts who have an exhibition of paintings by Jonathan Leaman.  There is no doubt that his skill as an artist is exemplary and the paintings are good but, for me, they were not sensational (maybe this is unfair considering the act they had to follow).

Jonathan Leaman, The Great Pipe, 2006-2011.  Own photograph.

Leaman is visibly inspired by narrative works from the 17th and 18th centuries and he saturates his works with meanings and emotional incidents.  Beaux Arts had one particularly special visitor in the gallery, intent on cleaning his paws whilst offering the occasional greeting to anyone who intruded on his space by the bar.

Beaux Arts’ dog and the first dog in the blog. Own photograph.

Cork Street was awash with visitors and I passed at least five other tempting openings as I headed to my number three.  But, alas, there was no time.  Well, I say that but an enticing display of shoes distracted us for at least ten minutes.  Research for Artista, of course!

Kurt Geiger. Own photograph.

TAG Fine Arts have taken over the Air Gallery on Dover Street with an exhibition of maps.  Map-making is an ancient art form that has helped to form a coherent geographical image of the world.  But, maps are no longer merely useful objects to be used for navigation and this is often the last thing on the mind of the cartographer.  This exhibition shows how traditional topography has evolved into territory for imaginative exploration.  These are not just two-dimensional pieces but windows into imagined lands.

The Art of Mapping at the Air Gallery, Dover Street. Own photograph.

The Art of Mapping celebrates cartography as an art form in which artists use maps to respond to their environments, creatively register ideologies, emotions and ideas and present selective records of real or fictitious worlds.  Highlights are new works by Stephen Walter and Rob Ryan but the exhibition showcases a number of contemporary artists concentrating on these themes including a range of new works as well as old favourites like Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear.  From Google’s controversial Street View project, to the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition, cartography is increasingly in the public eye.  One vodka tonic and lots of chatting later and time seemed to be running away with me…again!

Simon Patterson, The Great Bear, 1992. Own photograph.

My final stop was part two of the McCarthy exhibition at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row.  The North Gallery is taken over by Pig Island, a work that took seven years to complete, filling McCarthy’s studio, blurring the boundaries between a work and the workplace.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Own photograph from the viewing ladder.

The sculpture combines political and popular figures, placing them in a morally deviant world overrun with images of reckless abandon.  Constructed and raised on blocks of polystyrene, the work is littered with wood, cast body parts, clay, spray paint and old fast-food containers.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Pig Island looks intentionally unfinished – a raw and never-ending work that could expand into infinity.  There is something in every nook and cranny but the state of the piece means we can see McCarthy’s thinking and the development of his skewed ideas.  Stepladders are placed around the work to allow visitors a better view of the piece.  But, stilettos and a short dress meant I didn’t dare embark on this particular climb.  Instead, my loyal friend ventured up the ladder for me (and for you) with the camera and somehow managed not to fall headfirst into the island.

The ladders/viewing platforms for Pig Island. Own photograph.

The South Gallery presents some of the offspring of Pig Island which McCarthy himself has described as a sculpture machine.  Train, Mechanical shows two pot-bellied caricatures of George W. Bush, sodomising two pigs.

Paul McCarthy, Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

As perverse as it sounds, once again, it was impossible not to stop and stare.  The sculpture was intriguing and the audience were in no hurry to move away.  The work certainly brings out the voyeur in everyone.  I dare you not to stare at the rhythmic motion of the arses of presidents and pigs alike.

Paul McCarthy, detail of Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

Round the corner of the gallery, I gave in and changed into flats for my journey home.

Regent Street.

Walking down Regent Street, I had my first glimpse of this year’s Arthur Christmas Christmas lights – the countdown has truly begun.

Paul McCarthy: The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship is at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, Piccadilly and St James’s Square until 14th January 2012 (Paul McCarthy’s outdoor sculpture Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools will be on view until 15 February at St James’s Square), www.hauserwirth.com.  Jonathan Leaman: As Above So Below, 5 Years in the Making is at Beaux Arts until 17th December 2011, www.beauxartslondon.co.ukThe Art of Mapping is at The Air Gallery until 26th November 2011, www.tagfinearts.com.

Look again at London– Stephen Walter at Fenton House

29 Oct

I had planned to venture further afield for this post but, somewhat typically, I have been struck by the lurgy so I decided to stay closer to home.  However, the fact I don’t have to go far to reach Fenton House does not diminish what a great place it is.  But hurry!  The exhibition ends tomorrow so you don’t have long.

Fenton House, Hampstead. Image via the National Trust photo library, www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Fenton House is perched atop the hill in Hampstead, hidden in the old winding lanes where it’s easy to get lost, and I frequently do.  A 17th century merchant’s house, it’s filled with a treasure trove of fine furnishings, porcelain and art. For the month of October, it has also housed a wonderful selection of Stephen Walter’s London Series.

I have known Stephen for a number of years now and I’m a huge fan of his work, I even have some myself.  The Island: London Series was first published in 2008 and has enjoyed much acclaim ever since.  It’s impossible not to love these maps and discover Stephen’s incredible and witty detail whilst spotting your own road or familiar landmarks.

Stephen Walter, The Island, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.tagfinearts.com.

Stephen was inspired by the unfolding drama of city life, tracing its dynamic history.  His maps of London combine personal insights, local knowledge and research, bringing together stories, legends, histories and stereotypes; they are ultimately a celebration of place.  Under the guise of traditional techniques, his work reveals a myriad of words and symbols that merge older notions of Romanticism with the intricacies and contradictions of our modern world.

Stephen Walter, detail of The Island, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.tagfinearts.com.

Though geographically accurate, the maps have their own unique identities fashioned by Stephen’s idiosyncratic semiotics, which are juxtaposed with the familiar everyday signage of cartography and public spaces.  Each of his drawings is another world, full of fine detail, created through the self-enforced processes of re-representation and repetition.

Stephen Walter, detail of Camden showing Hampstead, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.tagfinearts.com.

It is Stephen’s lucid combination of diverse source material and his accurate re-mapping of our city that is so compelling.  Every time I look at one of these maps, I spot something new.  Displayed on the staircase, at this distinctive National Trust property, the maps sit beautifully.  You can explore the whole of London in the time it takes to climb the stairs.

Stephen Walter’s maps at Fenton House. Own photograph.

Stephen is currently working on a commission for the London Transport Museum to create a map of the City’s underground systems, which will be released in 2012.  I saw this work in progress a couple of weeks ago and it’s absolutely stunning.  If possible, each of Stephen’s works is more exciting than the last.  There’s always something amazing – a new place to explore, a new theme to play with.

Stephen at work. Image courtesy of Lars Borges.

Affordable Art Fair ticket holders will be offered 2-for-1 entry to Fenton House and 2 Willow Road.  NT members (with valid membership cards) will receive 2-for-1 entry into the AAF fair.

Stephen Walter: London Series is at Fenton House until 30th October 2011, www.tagfinearts.com or www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

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